Friday, July 28, 2006

Matsuzaka Watch: Episode 16

The saga of the two seam fastball begins anew. Our hero promised to showcase the pitch in his July 26th outing against Orix. The Buffaloes were the team to hand Matsuzaka his worst outing of the year and I guarantee he wanted to send a message. The two seamer helped him to do so, as he was once again magnificent.

Reports around the Japanese press had been brewing prior to the start that Daisuke was breaking out the pitch for the first time since participating in international competition. He has showcased the two seamer in the Olympics and the WBC in the past, and I am at a loss to explain why he has been reluctant to feature it for Seibu. The speculation is that his interest in the two seamer has something to do with his desire to play in the US next year, and he's out to show a different look. Perhaps some scouts have questioned the effectiveness of certain pitches in his arsenal against Major League hitters (as hard as that is for me to imagine) and he wanted to show his across the board dominance. He did indirectly suggest his desire to make a move by claiming the two seamer was being taken out of moth balls to "take on the world", or something to that effect. Now to the game...

The matchup between the Buffaloes and the Lions was a close affair with the teams clinging to a 2-1 score in favor of Seibu. A collection of hits got Matsuzaka the lead, and the lone Orix run came via 3 consecutive singles by the middle of the order. Otherwise the young ace was dominating, featuring 7 ground ball outs to only 4 in the air, and 6 strikeouts over 6.2 innings pitched. The strange set of circumstances in this ballgame that limited Matsuzaka to 6 and two-thirds was a pitch in the 7th inning that got away from Daisuke and grazed the helmet of Orix' leadoff man Oonishi, who had sandwiched a single between two strikeouts to that point. The umpire immediately tossed Daisuke from the 2-1 contest, citing the "dangerous pitch" rule. Can you imagine an umpire getting away with tossing Johan Santana in a close ballgame without a warning? Gardenhire would go homicidal. He gets tossed for going ballistic when an umpire calls a slightly loose strike zone.

The bullpen did its job and held the Buffaloes at one. The Seibu offense put up a couple of extra runs to cap the game 4-1 and Matsuzaka got his Japan-leading 11th win on the season. His ERA is at a preposterous 1.92 as of today. Click the stats below for a better look.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Matsuzaka Watch: Episode 15

I'm back. My trip to the US was a lot of fun, but I'm happy to be back at the keyboard bringing you the latest in the annals of Daisuke Matsuzaka history. There are two performances to bring you today. One is an actual start for Seibu, and the other is an appearance in one of the 3 Japanese All-Star games featured at mid-season. Yes, there are 3.

Let's get down to business with Matsuzaka's July 8th start against the Chiba Lotte Marines. This was his 3rd start of the season against Lotte, going 9 innings of 1 run ball for his second win of the season, and the ill-fated two thirds of an inning he pitched on June 24th before leaving with an injury. In this up and down season against the Marines, young Daisuke found another way to make things interesting by pitching 8.2 innings of shutout baseball, before giving up the walk-off sayonara home run to Lotte rightfielder Matt Watson.

At one point Matsuzaka retired 19 straight batters, and looked every bit the dominating force he is. Unfortunately for our hero and the Seibu Lions, no run support was offered against Bobby V's talented bunch. A 1-0 loss was added to Daisuke's record, and a disappointment prior to the layoff.

On July 21st Matsuzaka got the start in the first All-Star game of the season in Japan. In the first inning he gave up a lead off infield single to Yakult Swallows outfielder Norichika Aoki, who was promptly erased on a double play ball off the bat of Yokohama Baystars outfielder Tatsuhiko Kinjoh. Yakult third baseman Akinori Iwamura then struck out. So far, so good, right? The second inning saw Hanshin Tigers outfielder Tomoaki Kanemoto draw a walk, and Seung Yeop Lee launch a run scoring double to the right-centerfield gap tying the game at 1 apiece. Matsuzaka settled down and got the next three batters to pop out weakly, ending his day at the ballpark. He clocked 95 on the gun during his brief appearance and didn't figure in the decision as the Pacific League dropped the game 3-1 to the Centrals.

One final note. It seems that the young Seibu ace is pushing for a move to the majors, and has begun to ready himself by tinkering with a two seam fastball that he recently unleashed at the World Baseball Classic and will use again against the Orix Buffaloes in his next start. NY Newsday reports that the Yankees have hired associate scout Shoichi Kida, formerly of Matsuzaka's alma mater Yokohama High School. He was senior to Matsuzaka at Yokohama, and actually played briefly for the Yakult Swallows after graduating. There will be a bidding war, and the Yankees will win at all costs. More when it comes in. Go get 'em Daisuke.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Don't Let this Happen!!!

There is no need to be alarmed, but I'd rather address this now so it is said. In today's Truth&Rumors over at SI, a report is quoted from the Riverside Free Press, stating that the Angels are looking at Daisuke Matsuzaka. See for yourself:

"The Angels are eyeing star Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, who earned a win at Angel Stadium on his way to becoming the MVP of the World Baseball Classic. -- Riverside Press Enterprise"

I found the original article entitled "Angels See Stars in the East" and browsed it for evidence of anything unsavory from a Yankee perspective. The Angels signed a young Korean pitcher and plan to get more active in Asia from here on out. I think that's on the mind of a lot of clubs these days, but the names I always hear associated with Asian scouting are the Mariners, Angels, Dodgers, Yankees, and Mets. At this point there aren't many more serious players in the market, but that will soon change.

I don't mind seeing Asian talent spread out over a larger spectrum of the Majors. It's good to see the emergence of the Asian ballplayer in the modern game. It shows the international reach of the sport, and the ability of this new breed to cross the ocean and break the stereotype of Asian people as somehow athletically inferior. Someday you may see the same influence on the game that Dominicans have had in the recent past.

My problem is not at all with the Angels newfound love for the Asian market. My problem is that everybody better keep their filthy hands off Daisuke Matsuzaka. He's bound to draw ridiculous interest. The highest bidder gets to negotiate exclusively with young Daisuke, so teams have to submit secret dollar amounts to the Seibu Corporation and only after the highest number has been determined will the victor know they've won the sweepstakes. It gives the Japanese company a huge advantage when they have a hot commodity like Matsuzaka. Teams who want him badly enough are bidding against one another, but they're also bidding against the phantom value of exclusive negotiating rights. If you want to bring the kid to your team you have to outspend everyone else just to talk, so you will likely overpay Seibu to have a simple conversation. As to the question of whether Seibu will "post" him for bidding, the company is in serious financial straights, and hopes to win the Japan Series this year so they can more easily let him go and reap the profits. We should all be cheering for the Lions this season. Either way the bottom line may dictate selling him to the US.

Ordinarily, I'd say it isn't worth it to go over the top, but deep in my heart I know that this flamethrowing, knee-buckling 25 year old is one of the best 7 or 8 pitchers in the world. Think Francisco Liriano with more seasoning. He's championship ready today. Plug him into the front of the rotation, and do a better job of managing his pitch count, and you'll have yourself an ace pitcher for the next 10 or more years. Overpay George. For God's sake don't let these other Johnny-Come-Latelies get their grubby mitts on "The Future". He's a Yankee. Don't let him wear the Angels' Red.

Update: The Braves and Indians are in on the Asian signing action!!! Hurry up Yanks!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Matsuzaka Watch: Episode 14

HEEEEEEE'S BAAAAAAACK!!!!!! Is he ever back? After missing his last start with a pulled groin, suffered in the 1st inning of his start against Orix two weeks ago, Daisuke Matsuzaka returned to the mound against the Nippon Ham Fighters. How would his gimpy mid-section respond to live pitching against a tough opponent. Pffffff....stupid. Why ask such a ridiculous question.

Try 10 innings of 4 hit, 2 run, ball. Yup, the Lions won 3-2 in dramatic walk off fashion and Matsuzaka pitched a 10 inning complete game on 134 pitches, striking out 11 for good measure. It was a good win, as Daisuke gave up a go ahead solo homer in the top of the 10th to right fielder Atsunori Inaba and needed his teammates help to steal the victory. That they did, as Seibu centerfielder Shogo Akada drove in the tying run in the home eighth, and then capped the win with an RBI single up the middle in the bottom of the tenth. Stylish.

Nothing can stop the Matsuzaka Express. Click the image below for updated stats. One new addition is a brief line score above the season totals with adjustments excluding the .2 inning outing he had against Orix.